For a card that was expected to be a little more than the hors d’oeuvres for the grand feast that is UFC 200 next month, last weekend’s UFC 199 turned out to be one of the more exciting cards of the year.
There were fights with exciting finishes, like Michael Bisping finally being crowned middleweight champion after beating Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson’s brutal knockout of Hector Lombard. But there was excitement outside the Octagon, too. During the broadcast, it was revealed that featherweight champion Conor McGregor will finally get his rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 202 in August. It was also announced that Brock Lesnar will make his return at UFC 200 next month against Mark Hunt. Unfortunately, there was also excitement of the less good variety with the incident involving longtime MMA journalist Ariel Helwani.
But with all these happenings in the UFC taking place as we officially enter summer, there’s one more piece of business that should be addressed which can truly put the UFC over the top: the time is now to book a fight between Ronda Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
Cyborg was victorious in her UFC debut last month. She demolished Leslie Smith in just over a minute. Rousey has nary been seen or heard from, save for an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show, since she lost the women’s bantamweight title to Holly Holm last year. But you couldn’t (and still can’t, it seems) log on to Twitter or read many articles related to MMA over the last couple years without seeing some allusion to the Rousey and Cyborg feud.
The biggest obstacle to making this fight a reality has been weight. Cyborg is the Invicta FC featherweight champion and fought Smith in a 140-pound catchweight bout at UFC 198. Rousey fights at 135 pounds, though she previously fought at 145 pounds. Depending on who you believe, Rousey dropped down a weight class to avoid a possible match-up with Cyborg.
For the longest time, Rousey cited Cyborg’s failed drug test in 2011 as the main reason why she wouldn’t fight the Brazilian, as well as the insistence that Cyborg drop down to 135 pounds. UFC President Dana White has even played a role in keeping a Rousey/Cyborg fight from happening by joining Rousey in demanding that Cyborg make 135 pounds first.
Which is pretty suspicious, when you think about it. The UFC had no problem giving Cyborg a fight against Smith at 140 pounds. No offense to Smith, but a fight between Cyborg and Rousey is the biggest fight in women’s MMA history. It would result in one of the biggest box offices in UFC history. Why in the world wouldn’t the UFC make this fight happen, regardless of the weight class?
If Rousey still refuses to fight Cyborg at any weight besides 135 pounds, she really has no leg to stand on. When Rousey was the women’s bantamweight champion, it was somewhat understandable (although still a little curious) that she made that kind of demand. But Rousey is no longer the champion, while Cyborg still is one (albeit not a UFC champion). If Rousey is still sticking to her decree that Cyborg make the 135-pound weight limit for a fight with her, it gives credence to those who believe Rousey is ducking Cyborg.
Since her loss to Holm, Rousey has seemed unsure of what her future holds in MMA and doesn’t even seem sure if she wants to fight again at all. She recently had her knee scoped, which will keep her on the shelf until next year, and White has no idea when Rousey will want to fight again. Rousey experienced one of the biggest climbs in popularity of any athlete in history when she broke onto the scene in the UFC in 2013 — which really makes her disappearance from the public eye, save for some talk-show appearances and roles in Bud Light commercials, all the more incredible. She’s barely mentioned on UFC programming now.
The UFC followed up some exciting fights in the first part of 2016 with an even better slate of fights and events for this summer. UFC 200. The return of Brock Lesnar. The rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. Hell, there’s even rumors of CM Punk finally making his UFC debut. Right now, the only thing that’s missing is the UFC’s biggest female fighter squaring off against her biggest rival. If that doesn’t get Rousey’s competitive juices flowing again, then nothing will.